In a short yet meaningful ceremony, the DENR National Capital Region and the Rotary Club of Makati Rockwell (RCMR) signed an agreement on the conduct of a communication campaign on the proper disposal of used facemasks and other household medical wastes.

Regional Executive Director Jacqueline A. Caancan signed the MOA on behalf of the DENR National Capital Region while Ms. Stella Marie B. Ignacio, the current president of RCMR represented the club. DENR National Capital Region Assistant Regional Director for Management Services. Dr. Al O. Orolfo and RCMR Secretary Kristina G. Dancel stood as witnesses.

In her message, Directed Caancan noted how timely the partnership with RCMR is, especially as medical wastes, from both hospitals, households, and other institutions, have been on the rise since the pandemic started early this year.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB), for example, estimated an increase of 280 metric tons of medical waste per day for hospitals in Metro Manila, up from the average of 47 metric tons before the pandemic started. This figure, however, only accounts for medical waste generated by hospitals; it does not include medical waste generated from households and other new players, like the quarantine facilities and hotels converted into a temporary shelter for suspected COVID-19 cases or Locally Stranded Individuals (LSIs). “All of these new sources of medical wastes”, according to Director Caancan, adds a burden to our “overloaded waste disposal system”.

The top regional official also raised the alarm on reports that discarded facemasks have reached the shores of Manila Bay and feared that “we could have a problem much graver than the amount of fecal coliform found in its waters” if we do not act rapidly on this matter.  “We need to inform and educate the public on the dangers of improperly disposed of facemasks and PPEs, not only to public health but the health of the environment too”, Director Caancan said.

“First off, we need to put our used facemasks, gloves, and PPEs in a separate container. We should avoid mixing it with our regular household wastes”, Director Caancan explained. “Secondly, we must ensure that the garbage bag containing our used PPEs is sealed and properly labeled before handing it out to our garbage collectors just so they know that it must be handled with caution.”

While we need to protect ourselves by using facemasks and gloves, we also need to protect the people around us, Director Caancan insisted. “There is no use protecting ourselves if the people around us keep getting sick because we have been careless in the disposal of our used facemasks.” We must also realize that the state of our health is inextricably linked with the state of our environment. What happens to our environment, necessarily affects us and vice-versa.

According to Director Caancan, one way of reducing the amount of medical waste we generate is to use reusable facemasks and gloves instead. “If DENR and RCMR can successfully convince the public in doing so, limiting the use of medical-grade facemasks to hospital workers and the like, we would be making a great contribution in our fight to beat COVID-19 while protecting the environment".